The Archivo General de Centroamérica
1544-1821

Now Available on
~4,000 reels of 35mm silver halide microfilm

The Archivo General de Centroamérica 1544-1821

The Archivo General de Centroamérica (Central American Archives) 1544-1821, in Guatemala, is the most comprehensive collection found anywhere in the world of historical records spanning the period of Spanish rule in the Americas. The holdings of the Archivo include myriad types of documents covering a host of cultural, legislative, judicial, fiscal, economic, religious, military, agricultural and commercial matters pertaining to the Kingdom of Guatemala, an area which, from the time of the Conquest in 1544 through 1821, embraced modern-day Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Mexican State of Chiapas.

A significant portion of the materials date back to the 16th century, including municipal government records from 1540; Reales Cédulas (Royal Patent Letters) beginning as early as 1548; Autos judiciales (judicial proceedings) from 1572; Bienes de difuntos (inventories of the possessions of deceased persons) from 1574; tariff and tax records from 1577; and hospital records from 1579. Several other types of records found in the collection can be situated at the intersection and crossroads of larger themes pertaining to gender, race relations, the crucial role played by people of African descent in the region's history, as well as the persistence of pre-Columbian indigenous traditions as Spanish Habsburg rule unfolded during the seventeenth century. There are substantially more but equally rich documents from the eighteenth century, when imperial administration expanded under the Spanish Bourbon kings as part of their effort to recapture their colonial possessions.

The Microfilms
The collection was produced by McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario,  in cooperation with the Archivo General de Centroamérica under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of Guatemala. It owes its origins to the efforts of Dr. John Browning, now Professor Emeritus of Spanish at McMaster. In 1968, he alerted his university's Chief Librarian and Professor of Bibliography, William Ready, to the imperative of preserving the Central American Archive. Together, they helped initiate the process of microfilming, a project that took nearly ten years to complete. As a result of their initiative, and collaboration with Guatemalan archivists, the entire colonial component of the archive--more than 144,000 documents on ~6,000,000 pages--was reproduced on 3,923 reels of microfilm.

Given the fact that the bulk of the records of the Archivo General de Centroamérica are the original and, in most instances, the only extant records for the region during the colonial period, this microfilm collection serves as an important base and complement for studies directed toward a multitude of topics. In recent years there has been a noticeable resurgence in Canada and the United States of scholarship devoted to the Kingdom of Guatemala, including works tracing the origins of the modern states now found in the region. Hence, the microfilms described here will not only facilitate that trend, but have the potential for expanding the possibilities for graduate study and advanced research projects, including those designed for the classroom. As a further means of facilitating this process, purchasers of the collection will receive a computerized finding aid, which is also available free on request. It will enable researchers  to identify and purchase small subsets and individual reels.

All of the records were originally recorded on 16mm film. All customers will receive silver halide copies, which are virtually indestructible.

Scope of the Collection
As noted, the collection records the entirety of the Guatemalan Captaincy General (Capitania General), stretching from the modern-day borders of Chiapas to Panama. It follows the organization of the Guatemalan archive and is divided into the major provincial units established as a result of the Bourbon administrative reforms during the eighteenth century. It is important to note that the collection not only includes the proceeding of the Audiencia de los Confines (the high and appellate court of the Kingdom), but minute-books from town meetings, municipal financial records, local civil suits, notary records, contemporary maps, and land and labor records. The archive has been carefully indexed by author, subject, relevant civil and criminal category and geographical location, a facet of the original organization of the collection that will be included in the electronic finding aid. Consistent with the major geographical and administrative divisions of the colonial period, the major units of the microfilm are Chiapas, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Yucatan (Belize).

The records--legislative, judicial, economic and religious--span the entire colonial period, through 1821, and support interdisciplinary study in Central American history, Spanish history, Colonial history (including military history), slavery, and the history of indigenous groups with a common Mayan ancestry (the K'iche', Kaqchi', Poqomchi', Q'anjob'al, and Tz'utujiil), to name but a few topics illuminated by the collection.  The documents are classified under four very broad categories:

• Documents of the Superior Gobierno (in other words legislation, edicts, etc., originating from the Central Government);
• Documents of the Capitanía General de Guatemala (judicial, military and economic matters);
• Real Hacienda (exchequer documents, fiscal matters, currency, taxation, and court and criminal records); and
• Documents of the National Period.

Central America
The Spanish conquest of Guatemala began in February 1524, when conquistador Pedro de Alvarado led an army of Spaniards and Mexicans into the highlands and met a Quiché army at what is today Quetzaltenango. However it was neither superior military ability nor weaponry that led to the conquest of Guatemala. Rather it was European diseases that decimated Guatemala's native population before the conquistadors arrived. The story of the plagues was recorded by Guatemala's Maya-Chkch­iquel people. AAfter our fathers and grandfathers succumbed, half of the people ran away from the towns.  Dogs and vultures devoured the bodies. The mortality was terrible.... That is how we became orphans, oh, my children!

The documents in this collection provide a unique glimpse into the colonial history of Central America during a pivotal historical period. In addition, they illuminate the framework underlying the political, economic and social history of contemporary Central America.

For further information on the collection see, El Archivo General de Centro America: Ciudad de Guatemala, Pedro Lopez Gomez, 1991, and Jorge Lujan Munoz' Guia del Archivo General de Centro America: Ciudad de Guatemala, Ministerio de Educacion, Archivo General de Centro America, 1982.

New! Click here for FINDING AID

Pricing (New prices as of 1/1/2011)
Chiapas, 199 reels...........................................................$ 15,000
El Salvador, 378 reels.....................................................$ 28,000
Guatemala, 2,682 reels.................................................$ 150,000
   Superior Gobierno, 1,536 reels........................$ 90,000
   Judicial & Military, 150 reels..........................$ 12,000
   Economic, 317 reels.........................................$  20,000
   Real hacienda, 679 reels..................................$ 40,000
Honduras, 304 reels........................................................$ 20,000
Nicaragua, 335 reels.......................................................$ 25,000
Costa Rica, 30 reels........................................................$   3,000
Yucatan (Belize): 3 reels.................................................$    350

Complete collection, 3,931* reels.....................$200,000
* 8 reels pertain to two countries each, so the total is less than the sum of the parts.

Note: All reels are available individually, as are various smaller subsets; please inquire.  However, any researcher with access to the Guide can order selected films. All films are 16mm, silver halide.
Individual reels $125
11-99 reels, per reel  (For larger quantities, please inquire) $100

Please note:
1. The documents in this collection are extremely old, handwritten of course, and not always completely legible.  Furthermore, the films were not produced under perfect conditions, adding occasionally to such problems.  Therefore, while every effort is made to reproduce each roll as carefully as possible, the films are less than perfect!  We apologize but cannot take responsibility for any difficulties researchers may encounter using them.  Only films actually received damaged will be replaced (free) by the publisher.  However, overall the quality of the films is surprisingly good!
2. On the other hand, the condition of the documents captured on the films has remained constant over the years, whereas the condition of the originals has unfortunately been deteriorating.
3. Shipping costs are in addition to the prices noted above, but are reasonable.
4. We do not maintain inventory, therefore, as in a good restaurant, all orders are cooked to order and will therefore take some time to fill, depending on how many reels are required and how many other orders are in process at that time.
5. Orders from individuals and dealers must be prepaid.


Click here for John Browning's article (in English).

Click here for the Home Page of the Archivo

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